Wednesday, November 12, 2003

The game has already begunIt wasn’t long ago that Joe Kary and I were working cattle on his ranch south of White River, S.D. We rode up on a deer that seemed disoriented. She tried to clear the four-wire fence and got her back leg caught in the third wire. Joe and I speculated that she had Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) so we called the game warden who collected a tissue sample for analysis. The test was negative. Assumptions, anytime somebody gets sick now, we assume we have the West Nile virus. When a cow goes down in your pasture, do you wonder if it might be BSE? We live with these animals. We know them. We shouldn’t rely on the media for our information or we will be spooked by the dread factor.

The dread factor is on my mind today because of U.S. District court judge Sam Haddon’s comments last week about property rights. He said, Montana voters did not violate the constitutional rights of Montana game farmers when they adopted Initiative-143 and outlawed the hunting of captive elk, deer and other alternative livestock. Game farm owners have no absolute or unfettered right to operate an alternative livestock ranch as they see fit. Haddon said I-143, advances legitimate non-illusory state interests in protecting Montana wildlife.

Farmers have no right to operate their farm as they see fit? This comment should make us wonder what the intent of the law is. Theodore Roosevelt stated that laws involving hunting and wildlife should protect the species and the hunter. So whom does this law protect? Are the state governments actually using laws to compete with land owners within their state for the same revenue streams?

Let’s address the whole notion of protecting the species. Judge Haddon tried to indicate that he believed the myth about farmed deer and elk causing harm to wildlife. This is typical rhetoric for the animal rights movement, though it is not original.

The same fight is happening in the salmon industry. In April, the state of Alaska was granted $50 million for the wild salmon industry. The Alaskan salmon fishery harvests and markets wild salmon, but the growing market for farmed salmon has left the fishermen high and dry. Alaska’s Governor Frank Murkowski acknowledged the impact of salmon aquaculture on salmon fishery and is directing the new funds to address this shift. “The erosion of market share to farmed salmon has been devastating. But, we have a better product”.

Are our own governments attempting to the cripple the economy of an industry because human management results in a more consistent and reliable product? More importantly, the removal of the right to utilize personal property as one sees fit is disturbing. We continually hear about the need for family operations to diversify in order to save the farm, the heritage of rural America and small business. Yet these farmers are now being penalized for attempting to add value to their operations by diversifying.

Then the dread factor comes into play. For the same reason that our first thought was Chronic Wasting Disease, the voting public in Montana was duped into voting for a law that robs landowners of their rights, constant propagation of baseless information. Voters in Montana were given misleading information regarding the unfounded fears about CWD on deer and elk farms. This misrepresentation of facts played a huge role in garnering support for I-143. The domestic elk and deer industry has tested 35,000 animals for CWD in the last two years. Approximately 100 of those were confirmed positive. That means that only 0.28 percent of all farmed deer and elk tested were infected with CWD, nationwide.
Do we really want to be a society that puts laws into place because of fear of the unknown instead of basing our laws on proven facts simply because the media blows things out of proportion and creates epidemics just to sell news? I am sure many of you are reading this and wondering, What is he doing spending so much time talking about these fringe groups? It has nothing to do with mainstream agriculture and food production. If you fall into that category, you need to go back and reread the judge’s comments but take the word “game” out. Incidentally, no team with a good strategy plays their tough opponents until they have practiced on the easy ones. How might that analogy apply to these issues?

Trent Loos is a 6th generation United States farmer, host of daily radio show Loos Tales and founder of Faces of Agriculture, non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at or email Trent at